May 6th “Poem of Display” Catalogue Essay

In writings such as Spleen de Paris, the role of flâneur was initially defined by Charles Baudelaire as a creation of the modern city, an individual who roams the urban landscape with the sole intention of observing it and taking it in. This figure is pure spectator, disengaged. He analyzes and categorizes architecture, street signs, and the incessant chatter of the urban population. To some degree, the city belongs to the flâneur, who makes it her own by collecting and sorting its sprawl of referents.

In his great unfinished work, The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin redefines the flâneur as a disengaged witness who strolled the passages of the 19th century Paris arcades, urban marketplaces covered in iron and glass. From Benjamin’s perspective, this fgure did not participate in commercial transactions with buyers and sellers, but rather acted as a tourist of the marketplace.

Most of us today occupy hybrid roles as consumers and flâneurs. We enter the marketplace primarily as consumers. At the same time, however, we browse, we take in, we act as aesthetes. A relationship between the exhibits we observe (the displays of consumer goods) and the items we choose to purchase certainly exists, though the nature of that relationship is highly variable and often unclear.

Art galleries are places of commerce just as much as department stores are places where aesthetic works are displayed. Our Arcades Project is meant to create a temporary experiential space where visitors can explore this relationship between art space and marketplace. Arcades Project features books, editions, prints, multiples, and handmade objects that consumers can purchase, as well as visual installations that are not for sale but are meant to invite reflection on the intersections of text and visual arts, as well as art and shopping.

As part of Spring Writes, the Finger Lakes Literary Festival, the inaugural Arcades Project gives special attention to the literary marketplace and aims to increase visibility for high quality independent presses and book artists. As more literary works are delivered by electronic means, the bound book becomes something of an antique, a curiosity, or a precious artifact. Small press limited edition titles that are carefully crafted by passionate book artists may be viewed as art objects in their own right. For book artists and small press publishers who revel in and cherish this medium, Arcades Project seeks to provide means to connect readers and buyers with writers, presses, and book stock in hope that these intersections will strengthen and enhance the regional independent literary community.

This is a space where Thomas Gokey’s pirate printing press enables shoppers to create their own hand-bound books using PDFs from Jamie O’Neil, who appears as Kurt Weibers, explores the “gap space of the real and imaginary” as he incorporates new media with narrative performance to “sell” his Skippisox product. Painter Paul Chambers explores the manner in which decontextualized language can function like an object or a color, and Werner Sun turns books into whimsical mobiles that allow visitors to read their content from “below.” These uses of disembodied text are entirely appropriate visual expressions to reflect the climate of chaos and uncertainty in the realm of contemporary literary publishing. Arcades Project visitors may act as both interactive consumers and tourists in a liminal space where the gallery and the marketplace intersect.

Download the catalogue with participant bios here.


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